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The curves adjustment is quite powerful, allowing you to apply a wide variety of effects to an image both in terms of optimizing appearance and also applying creative effects. One interesting effect I used to present as a bit of a joke when teaching the curves adjustment is the sawtooth curve. I was sometimes surprised at just how many of my students loved the effect. And wanted to be able to apply it to their own photos. In this lesson, I'll show you how this effect is applied. It all starts with a curves adjustment layer. So I'll go to the bottom of the layers panel and click the Add Adjustment Layer button.
And then choose Curves from the popup menu that appears. Of course I could use the curves adjustment to affect the overall tonality or color in the image, but I'm going to take a more dramatic approach. Instead of working with curves using anchor points to bend the shape of the curve, I'm going to go straight to the Pencil tool, which allows me to draw a specific and custom shape for my curve. And I'm not going to draw just any shape. In fact, I'm not really going to draw a curve at all. But rather, a jagged sawtooth pattern. For example, I'll go ahead and start drawing a pattern. A fairly small sawtooth that follows roughly the original curve line. That line that goes from the bottom left to top right of the curve display here. You'll notice that there's not a dramatic effect on the image, at least not at first glance.
But if we take a closer look, you'll see that I've actually created a posturization effect. This effect stems from the shape of the curve I'm alternating between a steep curve and a downhill curve going up and down, up and down. The steep portion increases contrast significantly, and the downhill portion inverts colors. Of course, in this case the effect is somewhat subtle, but does give us a bit of a painterly effect within the image. Let's take a look at a more dramatic result.
In this case I'll go ahead and draw a new curve, drawing large, sweeping patterns, still creating a saw tooth effect, going up and down, creating these spikes, but making them very very tall and relatively spaced out. You can see that the effect is incredibly dramatic. Now I have extreme contrast for certain tonal ranges. And then an inverted image in other tonal ranges. And of course, I could draw a different curve in the same way. Producing a slightly different result each time.
It all depends on specifically where I draw those uphill verses downhill portions of the curve. Regardless the effect will certainly be interesting. And you can of coarse vary the effect changing how high you draw each of those individual segments. How closely their spaced together. You can go back and forth between large and small. There are seemingly countless possibilities here. The saw tooth curve applies an adjustment that isn't going to appeal to every photographer, and certainly it isn't an effect you'll want to apply to every image.
However, it is clever, and utilizing this technique not only allows you to create an interesting interpretation of your image, but can also help you better understand how the curves adjustment works.
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